Over 5,000 people have signed a petition calling on the leadership of George Mason University to withdraw their invitation for Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin to give the institution’s spring commencement speech.
The petition, started by left-wing activist Alaina Ruffin on change.org, says that she and her peers “do not want the memories of our graduation day to be tainted by an individual who has harmed and continues to harm the people he serves,” before citing the typical buzzwords used against any and all Republican politicians:
Preceding this announcement, GMU has neglected to meet the needs of students. From allowing homophobic, transphobic, racist, and/or anti-abortion groups to regularly occupy campus and harass passersby, to ignoring students and student organizations requesting assistance or support in their endeavors, GMU administration has taken pride in the diversity of the student body. At the same time, however, the administration has failed to protect and defend those same students from harm.
The petition goes on to cite various pieces of legislation passed by Youngkin, including prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory and the passing of “anti-trans legislation.” It also argues that Youngkin’s presence undermines the school’s commitment to diversity:
Selecting a speaker that has passed anti-trans legislation, promoted the abolishment of racial equity curricula, and restricted the availability of literature in public schools is an intentional target towards historically marginalized communities comprising Mason. It is harmful and disrespectful to the many students who continuously shape GMU’s community to bring in an individual who has also neglected the needs of Virginians.
George Mason University prides itself on being one of “the most diverse institutions in the Commonwealth.” Yet by having Governor Youngkin as this year’s Commencement speaker, we believe that the University compromises its supposed values of centering students’ experiences and overall well-being. When satiating its own desire to appease the powerful few, the University, once again, has abandoned these principles.
Supporters of the petition, many of whom do not attend the university or even live in Virginia, similarly expressed their outrage at the decision, arguing they felt ignored and disrespected by the university.
“I was debating attending commencement, but now I am utterly turned off,” wrote Jasmine Okidi of Fairfax, Virginia. “I feel blatantly disrespected by the University, after having worked hard to earn a degree to only be slighted by this choice. I cannot imagine the scores of students who will not be able to enjoy a festive commencement because of this speaker.”
“I’m a History and Women & Gender Studies major, not to mention a non-binary student,” added a student by the name of Sean Simmons. “This man stands opposed to everything I believe in and am as a student, my majors and very being are under attack in his politics. George Mason University cannot pretend to uphold diversity and freedom while supporting a man like this as a commencement speaker.”
Despite the claims of left-wing activists, Youngkin, who won the Virginia Governor’s race in November 2021 against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, boasts an impressive approval rating for a state that typically leans Democrat. According to a Mason Dixon survey carried out last month, around 56 percent of Virginians approve of Youngkin, with 31 percent disapproving of the former businessman. This 25-point gap marks Youngkin’s highest approval rating since taking office in early 2022 and has led to speculation as to whether he could launch a bid for the presidency.
The state of Virginia has voted for every Democratic presidential candidate since Barack Obama in 2008, although new polls show Biden and the party at large are losing ground. Biden’s approval rating in the Mason-Dixon survey was only 45 percent, with 52 percent disapproving. Meanwhile, a separate survey by Christopher Newport indicated 73 percent of Virginians also feel the country is heading in the wrong direction.
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